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Employers’ access to criminal records ‘will make it harder to prevent re-offending’

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New legislation giving employers access to the criminal records of job applicants will add to discrimination against offenders in the labour ­market – increasing the risk they will revert to criminal activity.

The warning comes in a study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which concludes that the vast majority of employers will make use of their impending right to ask job applicants for an official certificate listing criminal convictions.

The report finds that only a tiny proportion of job seekers currently disclose their offending record to employers. Home Office statistics show that one in three men have at least one criminal conviction for a non-motoring offence by the time they are 30. Yet the researchers’ analysis of more than 22,000 job applications found fewer than one per cent where a criminal record had been revealed.

Provisions in the Police Act 1997 that are due to take effect in the autumn of 2002 give employers the right to ask applicants for a ‘basic disclosure’ certificate showing any criminal records held at national level that are not ‘spent’. The legislation also extends the access of employers working with children and vulnerable adults to full police records on job applicants, including spent convictions, cautions and warnings.

The researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and NACRO (the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), conclude that although the law does not force the disclosure of criminal records, there will be considerable pressure on job applicants. Their survey of more than 400 employers found seven out of ten thought it ‘very’ or ‘quite’ likely they would require applicants to provide a basic disclosure certificate. While one in four private employers said they would not seek the information unless making a firm job offer, it appeared likely that many others would use the disclosure system to vet applications before interview.

Del Roy Fletcher, a research fellow and co-author of the study, said: “Requests for basic disclosure certificates seem set to become a standard recruitment practice once the legislation comes into force.”

He added: “Ex-offenders already face considerable difficulties finding work, even though a steady job can play an important part in making it less likely they will commit further crime. Our research suggests that the introduction of basic disclosures will heighten the level of discrimination against offenders, with serious potential consequences for levels of re-offending.”

The research included an in-depth analysis of recruitment policies and procedures in 26 companies providing work in occupations like retailing, catering and transport, traditionally sought by offenders. It found that employers’ attitudes were complex and often contradictory. Although chiefly worried by the risks of re-offending, a significant number were unwilling to recruit even those who were least likely to commit further crimes.

Two out of three employers had a formal or informal policy on hiring people with criminal records, many of which restricted their recruitment to some extent. Most had formal equal opportunities policies, but few contained any specific mention of offenders, who were often considered to be ‘undeserving’ by managers.

The report urges the Government to consider measures that would encourage employers to adopt policies for recruiting offenders. For example, their access to basic disclosure records could be made dependent on whether a formal policy was in place.

The authors also call for a campaign to inform offenders of their rights and obligations and for initiatives that would give them better access to job opportunities.

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